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CULTURE | 27-04-2024 18:17

Liliana Heker opens Buenos Aires Book Fair with strong speech against Milei's austerity

Acclaimed author's addresses inauguration speech at 48th edition of Buenos Aires International Book Fair sheds light on Argentina's socio-political landscape.

Acclaimed author Liliana Heker opened the latest edition of the Buenos Aires International Book Fair on Friday with a fiery speech laced with criticism of President Javier Milei’s government.

Heker, a prominent figure in Argentine literature, seized the moment as she opened the 48th edition of one of the most important Spanish-language literary events in the world. Highlighting the socio-political challenges facing Argentina amid a campaign of fierce austerity, she delivered a speech that reverberated with passion, introspection, and social commentary. 

"Poverty and destitution are growing day-by-day,” observed the 81-year-old, who bemoaned “thousands of unfounded dismissals,” “underfunded universities” and a public health system in crisis. 

In Milei’s Argentina, said Heker, “scientific and technological research and the practice of science and technology are being devastated, every institution or medium that favours the development and dissemination of culture has been undermined or erased, natural wealth is being handed over and the state is absent even in the event of an epidemic.”

Reflecting on her personal history and the transformative power of literature, the Noticias sobre el iceberg author went on to evoke memories of her first encounter with the book fair over half a century ago. She reminisced about the joy of sharing her work with enthusiastic readers and the profound impact of cultural enterprises like the Centro Editor de América Latina, which supported her during turbulent times.

Her speech resonated with attendees, inspiring hope and reaffirming the transformative power of literature and collective action in shaping Argentina's future.

Yet Heker's tone grew sombre as she confronted the stark realities of present-day Argentina. She candidly addressed the escalating poverty, unemployment, and erosion of public services, asking whether it made sense to hold a new edition of the book fair in a country in crisis.

Undeterred by the prevailing hardships, the Zona de clivaje writer urged attendees to recognise the transformative potential of literature and the arts in fostering empathy, critical thinking, and social awareness.

"For the inexhaustible diversity of possibilities that it implies and for being the exponent of a very broad register of knowledge and art," Heker asserted, emphasising the significance of literature as a bulwark against ignorance and apathy. 

She underscored the importance of reading, not merely as a solitary activity but as a communal endeavour that fosters dialogue, understanding, and resistance.

Throughout her speech, Heker – who oversaw several left-wing literary journals during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship – artfully blended personal anecdotes with astute observations on Argentine society, weaving a narrative that celebrated the enduring spirit of cultural resilience amidst adversity. 

She lamented the Milei’s government's disregard for institutions that promote knowledge and creativity while highlighting the enduring legacy of Argentine cultural achievements.

"As an ideal, I would like to know if those who were seduced by this promise of prosperity asked themselves what the country was really like at the beginning of the 20th century," challenged Heker, confronting the allure of nostalgic rhetoric.

The  called upon Argentines to resist ignorance, demand accountability, and uphold the values of democracy and social justice.

"Ours is a worthwhile country," declared Heker, acknowledging the nation's flaws while celebrating its cultural richness and human potential. 

In a poignant conclusion, Heker toasted to the resilience of the Argentine people and the enduring legacy of the Book Fair, expressing hope for a future where culture thrives, and readers multiply. 

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Sofia Anahi Rodriguez

Sofia Anahi Rodriguez


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